VA Moves Forward with Anti-Employee Agenda in Contract Rebuttals

Categories: VA, The Insider

Contract negotiations between AFGE and the Department of Veterans Affairs have completed with both sides waiting for the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) to issue a decision that would impact the lives of VA employees for years to come. 

The AFGE National VA Council (NVAC) and the VA began contract negotiations in May last year, but the agency tried to gut the contract covering 270,000 employees represented by AFGE and instead implement Trump’s anti-worker executive orders limiting employees’ workplace rights.  

The disagreement led both parties to the FSIP, which the Trump administration has packed with anti-union zealots and used to impose management directives and/or Trump’s executive orders. The NVAC subsequently sued the panel for its illegally appointed impasses panel members.  

Despite the complaint, impasse proceedings continued, and both sides submitted their written support of their proposals to the FSIP earlier this year. In July, the parties each submitted their rebuttals, which allowed both sides to respond to the other’s initial statement of position.  

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the VA continued to reject fair treatment of employees and seek to impose the Trump administration’s anti-worker directives.  

Here are 6 of the agency’s most outrageous points in their rebuttals: 

1. The VA tries to abolish the merit-based principles   

AFGE’s proposals provide for objective, merit-based decisions concerning employees. The VA’s proposals leave all decisions to management’s discretion, allowing non merit-based reasons, like race, to govern personnel decisions such as telework, awards, promotions, and overtime.  

2. The VA views AFGE’s safety article as bloated and unnecessary   

So they cut most of it out despite the current coronavirus pandemic that has killed 172,000 Americans and infected 5.5 million others. For the parts left in, the VA shifts its responsibility to provide a safe and hazard-free workplace to the employees and the union. The pandemic provides a real-time illustration of how the department’s proposals would be a failure.  

3. The VA derides the words “fair” and “equitable” in AFGE’s proposals  

The VA stated, “When AFGE incorporates non-competitive procedures with words such as “fair” or “equitable,” they create an environment where an employee can feel aggrieved by a process that is not necessarily meant to be fair or equitable.” 

The agency’s opposition to the statutorily required process is not only bizarre but downright wrong. 

5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(2) states “All employees and applicants for employment should receive FAIR AND EQUITABLE treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to political affiliation, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or handicapping condition, and with proper regard for their privacy and constitutional rights.”  

4. The VA doesn’t believe in workers’ rights and collective bargaining 

The VA stated, “The VA’s proposal, allowing law and regulations (as they change) to govern, assures the CBA will comply with the intent of both Congress and the Executive Branch rather than hold the parties to outdated authorities throughout its term.”  

This is the opposite of the law. Once a collective bargaining agreement is in effect, its terms govern over agencywide regulations of the same matters. Subsequently issued governmentwide rules or regulation (except governmentwide rules or regulations issued under 5 U.S.C. § 2302 - Prohibited Personnel Practices) cannot supersede its terms.  

5. The VA wants to remove telework from the contract 

The VA said the panel should strike Telework from the CBA, claiming it already expanded telework during the pandemic without the union’s involvement. In reality, the agency blocked AFGE from participating in its telework program during the pandemic, prompting us to file grievances. AFGE promotes telework and wants to make sure it’s done correctly and fairly so the VA can carry out its mission safely without sacrificing its employees’ health. 

Striking the article is not an option for the panel since the Telework Enhancement Act and the Labor Statute intend for the telework program to be negotiated with the union. Any changes to the program also need to be negotiated with the union. 

6. The VA doesn’t want to be required to provide breaks to employees 

Under the law, whether to grant a break is discretionary for management. It is bargaining that provides an enforceable break to employees. But the VA said breaks do not need to be codified in the contract as it falsely stated, “..but breaks are mandated by law and do not need to be codified in the CBA.” 

Outraged? Do something about it this Labor Day 

Help us tell VA Secretary Wilkie to return to the table and bargain with the NVAC in good faith.  

This Labor Day weekend, AFGE local unions will hold public protests to demand a fair contract for all bargaining unit employees. If you are interested in mobilizing members at your location, contact the NVAC Crisis Response Campaign at [email protected].  


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